Katong Park is one of the oldest parks in Singapore, being built in the 1930s. It was once a favourite place for families to have picnics in the weekends due to its splendid seafront view. During its heydays, it had a large swimming bay, children playground, changing rooms, food outlets and even hawker stalls at Meyer Road which attracted large crowds at night.
However, the land reclamation in 1966, and later the construction of the East Coast Parkway (ECP) that started in the seventies, blocked the excellent views. The popularity of Katong Park declined after that.
Katong Park was formerly the site of Fort Tanjong Katong, used from 1879 to 1901 by the British as a defensive fortification in the southern part of Singapore. It was designed by colonial governor, engineer and architect Sir Henry Edward McCallum (1852-1919). During the turn of the 19th century, the British were concerned about the influence of other European powers such as the Dutch and the Russian (although the Russia Empire never extended their influence to the Southeast Asia). Fort Tanjong Katong, along with Fort Siloso, Fort Connaught and Fort Serapong of Sentosa, were built to defend the all-important Keppel Harbour.
Due to soft ground and lack of accessibility of supplies, Fort Tanjong Katong was deemed ineffective as a fortress. After only two decades of usage, the fort was abandoned and the pair of 8-inch guns, the fort’s main defensive weapons, were shifted to other places. Since the late 1910s, Fort Tanjong Katong was buried and largely forgotten, replaced by Katong Park and the land reclamation along East Coast.
In 2011, an observation of an exposed bastion wall by a Katong resident called Jack Sim prompted the authority to excavate the forgotten site. The archaeological dig took place in 2004, with discovery of more infantry bastions, moat and drawbridge, and was hailed as one of the most important archaeological finds in the history of Singapore. A year later, the site of Fort Tanjong Katong was reburied again for future excavation.
Due to its popularity, Katong Park was targeted and rocked by three bomb explosions in September and October of 1953. It was the period of Konfrontasi, when Indonesian president Sukarno openly opposed the formation of Malaysia (Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak, Singapore and Brunei) and sent his team of saboteurs to Singapore to carry out the terrorist acts.
The windows of the nearby Ambassador Hotel (also known as Duke Hotel and later, Katong Park Hotel) were smashed by the impact of the explosions. One of the oldest hotels in Singapore, the seven-storey Ambassador Hotel was built in the early sixties. It was acquired in 1982 by a hotelier Teo Lay Swee, before the ownership of the hotel changed hands again in 1992 to a Chui family from Macau. The hotel was eventually demolished by late 2002 to make way for a residential project.
The pair of interesting sculptures of guards standing in front of Katong Park, along Fort Road, was donated by Jack Sim. They have the images of a British and Indian Sikh guard, which symbolised the multi-ethnic civil defence forces of Singapore in the 19th century.
Published: 06 March 2012